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Campions and Catchfly's { Caryophyllales part three }

Updated on September 1, 2015

Silene regina



In part's one of the Cayophyllales we looked at the Goosefoots and allies, in part two, beetroot and their allies,here in part three we look at the flowering plants of the genus Silene which includes the Campions and the Catchfly's. The genus Silene contains about 700 species and is the largest genus of the family. Many plants of this genus are widely distributed around the world particularly in the northern hemisphere.

Because of the large number of species in this large genus we can only review a selected number of species which are typical of the plants in general and therefore more chance of being encountered by the majority of plant lovers. The genus Silene takes its name from the Greek Silene meaning the moon,the flowers of some species opening at night. However, over time there have been more explanations for the name including it being dedicated to Silenus the merry drunken god of the woodlands,alluding to the habitat and the brightness of the blooms of some species. Another explanation is it derives from the Greek Sialon meaning saliva and alluding to the gummy exudations of the stems to repel insects.

Compnents of the Campion Silene noctiflora

Johann Sturm {painted by Jacob Sturm}
Johann Sturm {painted by Jacob Sturm} | Source

Red Campion. Silene dioica


Silene alba {Silene latifolia}


The general characteristics of this group.

The general characteristics of this family may be understood by calling to mind, or the examination of the single Pink or Sweet William growing in the garden. {see my hub Growing Carnations and Pinks. }. But these are cultivated species and here we are reviewing their wild relatives. Take a Red Campion flower from the hedgerows or woods,they can be found almost throughout the year. On pulling the flower apart we will discover that the calyx {sepals etc} is stiff and upright,and the petals though broad and spreading at the top of the calyx are exceedingly slender within. However, there is a marked difference,the five sepals have got their edges joined together,so that the calyx has become a downy reddish tube,with triangular teeth at its upper end to show that it really consists of the five united sepals.

The five petals are separate,rosy pink in colour and the broad portion is deeply cut into two lobes,together they form a kind of coronet at the top of the corolla tube. There are ten erect stamens and as a rule the flower contains these has no pistil.Whilst the flower that contains the perfect pistil and five styles has no stamens. Further ,as a rule, the plant will produce either a complete male flowers or a complete female flowers only. This separation of the sexes,by being formed on different plants does not characterize the family,but is peculiar to this species.-a condition known as dioecism,hence the species name of dioica.

The seed vessel is somewhat egg shaped,with a tendency to become globular and opens at the top by splitting into ten teeth.

The species referred to as the Red campion, Silene dioica, is a very common woodland or hedgerow plant.It attains the height of two and a half to three feet tall. The reddish green flowering stems have stalk-less leaves.They are arranged opposite to each other,oval to oblong in form and they are hairy. The lower basal leaves are stalked and also oval to oblong in shape.

The flowers are produced from May until August but some individual specimens may be found at almost any time of the year. The rosy pink petals are deeply notched. The flowers are from half an inch to three quarters of an inch broad. The flowers are succeeded by a flask shaped capsule with ten turned back teeth at the top.

The white campion, Silen alba, is a very similar plant but produces white flowers. The two are sometimes seen growing together.However, the white campion is a plant of more open locations and not found fond of shade like the former species.It thrives on roadside verges and arable land.

Campions were once placed in the related genus of Lychnis.

Bladder campion

Taken at Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Taken at Ottawa, Ontario, Canada | Source

Chickpea and Silene vulgaris stew.


Bladder campion Silene Vulgaris

The Bladder campion,Silene vulgaris,is a native to Europe. It is widespread in North America ,where it is sometimes considered to be a weed.In some parts of Europe especially around the Mediterranean countries the young shoots and leaves were eaten raw in salads or cooked as a vegetable.

The conspicuous inflated sepal tubes of the Bladder campion gives the species an appearance of bladders making it instantly recognizable. These swollen sepal tubes may be greenish,yellowish or pinkish,with a fine network of veins. The flowers are white with five deeply notched petals. The flowers become fragrant in the evening. The flowers are borne on branched stalks and are 1.6-1.8 cm {up to three quarters of an inch } wide. They flower in May until August.

The leaves are opposite,oval with wavy margins and only the lowermost are stalked. The fruit is a many seeded capsule with six teeth. They are similar to the white campion,Silene alba,which does not have an inflated calyx.

Moss Campion/Cushion Pink


Silene acaulis 'alba' A good garden variety.


Moss campion. Silene acaulis.

Moss campion, Silene acaulis, is a small plant of mountains,and is relatively common on the higher mountains of Eurasia and North America. It also extends to the British Isles. It is an evergreen perennial that forms densely flowered cushions of pink flowers. They are ground hugging and only attain the height of between two and six inches,with a spread of a foot or more.

The pink flowers are borne upon stalks one to one and a half inches long and they are borne singly.Although generally pink in colour,white varieties are some times encountered. The flowers are star-shaped around a centimetre wide {half an inch}. They may be encountered between June and August. The sepals are fused together to form a tube which conceals the base of the petals inside. The stamens extend well beyond the throat of the flower. The stems and leaves of this species feel sticky to the touch.

The variety 'subcaulescens' is encountered from Wyoming to Colorado,and has pale pink flowers that appear all summer long.

Moss campion is a great plant for the garden when growing in well drained, gritty soils in full sun. Until the profusion of flowers appear, the plant as its common name suggests,looks just like moss. In the garden it thrives in dry conditions especially so in tight rock crevice. It is ideal for a small rock garden where the flowers will have a more visual impact. There are varities available such as Silene acaulis 'cenisia' and a white flowered form Silene acaulis 'Alba'

Rose campion,Silene coronaria


Seed capsules and seeds of Lychnis coronaria


Rose campion. Silene coronaria

This species is native to Asia and Europe,and is often referred to as Lychnis coronaria,more rarely it is found under the name of Agrostenama coronaria.

It is perennial species growing to the height of thirty one inches {80 cm }. They produce bright magenta flowers produced in succession throughout late summer.The foliage is grey felted.It is another plant suitable for the garden,and,has been awarded the RHS Award of Merit. The garden varieties need a south facing or east facing aspect.They grow best in well drained, loam or sandy soil in exposed or sheltered places in full sun or partial shade. They readily self seed. Dead-head to prolong the flowering period.

Other species of campion include Silene virginica. Silene scouleri {simple campion}. Silene stellata {Starry Campion} and Silene stenophylla { Narrow-leaved campion}.

Silene virginica


The Catchfly's.

Now we review the Catchfly's of the genus Silene. We commence with Silene alexandri,Kamalo Gulch catchfly,or Alexander's catchfly which is endemic to Hawaii where it is encountered on the island of Molokai. It is a threatened by habitat loss and is currently listed as endangered.

It is sub-shrub 30-60 cm tall {one to to feet },producing white flowers. It is restricted to a small stretch on the island of Molokai and today only around six plants are known to remain on the steep rocky slopes.

Silene alexandri Now considered to be endangered


Silene dichotoma. The forked catchfly.


Silene antirrhina the Sleepy Catchfly.Silene dichotoma The forked catchfly

Silene antirrhina, is the Sleepy catchfly, a native to North America where it is widely distributed and also to parts of South America. However, it has been introduced to some parts of Europe.The habitat for this species varies.It grows on disturbed and recently burned land among other haunts The height and appearance may also vary according to conditions.They are met with in dry,sandy or gravelly places,roadsides,fields, waste places and open woodland.

However, as a general rule it is an annual species that attains the height of up to 80 cm.{ two to two and a half feet.}. The stems arise from a deep root and branch near the summit.The observant will note the dark coloured internodes on the stem those higher up the stem are sticky. Insects become trapped on the sticky stems,hence the common name of catchfly. The plant does not gain any nutrients from the insects as is the case with the plant Venus's Flytrap.

The basal leaves are lance-shaped up to three inches long {6 cm },the stem leaves are smaller and narrower. The flowers are enclosed in an inflated calyx of fused sepals and have ten veins. The calyx opens at the top revealing five deeply cut petals in shades of pink,red or purple to white.However, sometimes the petals are absent altogether. They flower in late summer the seeds are a dull grey black colour.

Silene dichotoma, the forked catchfly. This is a native to Eurasia and some other parts of the temperate world including regions of North America where it is thought of as weed of disturbed places. It is an annual plant that attains the height of between 20-80 cm. The stem is erect,generally hairy above.The foliage gradually reduces upward. The lower ones are 6-8 cm,long three inches or so, lance shaped and oblong. The upper leaves are much narrower.The flowers are usually spreading on short stalks or very short stalks.

The calyx is densely hairy and has ten veins.It is inflated.It opens at the top revealing five white to red petals that are curled at the tips. The fruits are ovoid and very short stalks,the seeds within dark brown.

Silene nutans. Nottingham catchfly


Nottingham catchfly. Silene nutans.

This species is a plant arising from a thick tap root. It grows up to thirty inches plus. The lower leaves are around three inches long and spathulate,borne on a very long stalk,while the upper leaves are lanceoloate and acute borne on very short stalks.All the foliage is adorned with a soft covering of hairs.

The flowers of this species appear somewhat ragged and their stalks tend to droop. The petals are white or pale pink and cut deeply into narrow lobes. The resulting seeds are kidney shaped. It is widespread species across Europe from the south of Spain and Italy ,north to the British isles, and up as far as Scandinavia. It is also found across large regions of Asia. In America it is an introduction and is often referred to as the Eurasian catchfly.

Despite its common name which it took from Nottingham UK, where it once grew on the walls of Nottingham Castle . It no longer occurs there or anywhere in that county,it does occur in other parts of the UK.

Silene lemmonii. Lemmon's catchfly.

Taken in Yosemite National Park USA
Taken in Yosemite National Park USA | Source

Silene lemmonii. Lemon's catchfly.

Silene lemmonii, is native to the mountain ranges of Oregon and California,where it grows in sylvan habitat often in moist places. It is a perennial species which produces several shoots and stems which arise from a woody root-stock.These stems may be decumbent or erect,over a foot long and covered by hairs. The hairs on the upper part are glandular. The majority of the foliage is located low on the plant and are oval to lance shaped,smaller leaves do,however, occur on the upper stem.

The flowers ,one to seven, in a cluster are borne on sticky glandular stalks. the flowers have inflated calyx's of used sepals,which are open at the top to reveal five petals. The petals may be coloured white,yellowish or pinkish.They are cut deeply into hair like stands that often curl and tangle with each other. Their long stamens are produced from the nodding flower in the manner of a Fuchsia. The flowers are pollinated by moths.

They flower in summer in moist openings in coniferous forests on mountain slopes up to 2,900 metres.

Silene invisa is found in the Cascades and Sierra Nevada,it is a rare species very similar to Silene drummonde. Hybrids of the two have been encountered in Nevada and Arizona.

As we have seen the Campions and Catchflys are an interesting group related to the pinks and carnations and many species make interesting garden plants.

Silene colorata 'Poiret'



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